A “charity” that was created by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to fight for those “targeted for their atheism, apostasy, or blasphemy” is suing the IRS to kill the tax exemption for churches, and a Baptist church that would be injured by the action is fighting back.
New Macedonia Baptist Church, through the Alliance Defending Freedom, has filed a motion to intervene in the case Nonbelief Relief Inc v. IRS.
The faith organization explains, “If plaintiff’s claims are successful, The New Macedonia Baptist Church will lose its longstanding exemption and be required to file costly, time-consuming and intrusive annual returms with the IRS or otherwise forfeit its tax-exempt status.”
“Activist groups with an axe to grind against religion shouldn’t be allowed to entangle the government with religion in ways the First Amendment prohibits,” explained ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley.
“Requiring churches to file tax returns with the IRS places too much power – and too much sensitive information about church operations and finances – in the hands of the government. That’s why the First Amendment legitimately blocks any requirement that churches file such returns. Because The New Macedonia Baptist Church has an obvious interest in the outcome of this case, we are asking the court to allow the church to intervene in defense of its existing constitutionally protected freedoms.”
The filing explains that while the IRS is defending against the lawsuit, it is the church that would be hurt, and no one else really can defend its own interests like the church.
The motion filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Nonbelief Relief v. Kautter explains, “Although the federal government is likely to defend the constitutionality of the [Form 990] exemption [for churches], its particular interest in doing so is necessarily broad and nonreligious. The New Macedonia Baptist Church, in contrast, has very specific and religious interests in upholding the exemption – interests that it alone can articulate and adequately defend. Indeed, the church intends to defend the exemption by explaining how forcing it to file detailed and intrusive annual returns with the IRS would burden its religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment.”
The church explains that church groups have been exempt from specific IRS reporting requirements since the requirements were created.
“Congress first began requiring tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns in 1943. But exceptions from that requirement have always existed. Churhces and other church-affiliated organizations, for example, have always been exempted…”
It pointed out it’s not the first such attempt by the FFRF.
“A few years ago, it filed a similar legal challenge in District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. That case was dismissed in 2014 for lack of standing.”
The FFRF then set up Nonbelief Relief but they are “essentially one and the same.”
The same people are officers and FFRF board members “make up the entirety of Nonbelief’s board,” the church filing explains.
But the sub-group refused to file IRS forms, and now “contends that the exemption available to churches and church-affiliated organizations … violates the Establishment Clause.”
Intervention by the church in the court case, the filing explains, is not just allowed but appropriate.
The Washington Times reported five years ago that FFRF was granted a tax exemption by the IRS, which cited allowances for religious organizations, angering FFRF officials.
But the DOJ argument was that the IRS already recognized Buddhism and Taoism as religious, even though they don’t believe in god.
Nonbelief’s filing states its donors want to improve the world even though they are “not inspired by a bible or other purported holy book or by the desire for a heavenly reward.”
The FFRF, in a separate agenda, is trying to have the government eliminate the pastors’ housing allowance.
It’s fighting in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Becket lawyers are suggesting the exemption for housing for pastors is perfectly constitutional.
The case, seeking some $1 billion in tax money from churches across the U.S., was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation organization against the IRS several years ago.
A federal judge agreed with the foundation.
Becket is representing Chris Butler, pastor of a South Side Chicago church, who benefits from the 64-year-old tax-exempt housing allowance for religious leaders.
Butler “is the leader of a predominantly African-American congregation, and devotes his life to mentoring at-risk youth, decreasing neighborhood crime, and caring for the homeless in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods,” Becket said.
“The church can’t afford to pay Pastor Chris a salary, but it offers him a small housing allowance so he can afford to live near his church and the community he serves.”
WND reported last spring when the case was appealed.
Judge Barbara Crabb, who has a reputation for hostility to faith, previously said such a benefit is allowable for secular employees, but it should not be available for Christian pastors.
Becket argued the exemption is available to a “dizzying array” of other workers, including hotel managers, nurses, fishermen, construction workers, apartment caretakers, museum directors, oil executives, non-profit presidents, teachers, school superintendents, diplomats, peace corps volunteers, state governors, prison wardens and soldiers.